Commentary on Abstract Morality (A Response to Phil Robertson’s Recent Atheism Commentary)

It’s not a common practice for me to directly respond to individual people for things they say or things they believe. For the most part, I merely provide commentary on collective ideologies. There have only been a few instances when I have actually lobbied a response toward a particular figure. However, comments made by Phil Robertson at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast, a Christian event, in Florida last Friday have just pushed me to a point where I felt response was necessary. Of course, it could be argued that my response has been coming for a while, considering the man is no stranger to making inflammatory comments for reasons I can only assume are a.) sincerely held beliefs, or b.) coached talking points by organizations that support his particular brand of batshit Fundamentalist rhetoric, or c.) a combination of both. After all, in the world of Phil Robertson, STD’s are the hippie’s revenge, “convert or kill” should be the nation’s Islamic State strategy, liberals are worshipers of Satan and are worse than Hitler and Stalin (at the same breakfast), and allowing LGBT Americans to marry and have sex with each other will “morph out” to bestiality and “sleeping around” (not like the latter doesn’t already happen).

Given that the above audio is on YouTube, and because Phil Robertson is judging you through the Internet in the above media, I’m going to transcribe, as best I can, what he said.

… you just buy enough healthcare insurance, that’ll keep you out of the ground. I don’t think so… save you money… You’ve got a six-foot hole waiting on you if you have all the healthcare you can buy. You say, “is it going to keep me out of the ground?” No sir. It’s a problem, and you know something, you can’t solve it.

Just like you can’t see your sin problem. Oh, I-I mean, I-I-don’t know, this conscience thing. I mean, we just dreamed it up! There’s no right, there’s no wrong. There’s no good, there’s no evil. I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. (low audience chuckles). Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them. And they take his wife and they decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, “isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it, dude?” Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, “wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But, you’re the one who says there’s no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong. So, we’re just having fun! We’re sick in the head! Have a nice day.”

If it happened to them, they probably would say, “something about this just ain’t right…”

I can see that Phil Robertson is attempting to make a point that he views atheism to be an immoral practice, much in the same way he views liberalism to be a Fascist practice and homosexuality to be a sinful practice. However, there are definitely more productive ways to make that point. Firstly, Phil Robertson could actually listen to what atheism is and how atheists actually think, instead of rushing to explicit, asinine assumptions regarding the moral value of atheistic thought. I don’t personally know a single atheist who would commit the acts Robertson described above, much less use atheism as a means to justify them. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single atheist who knows of a single atheist who would commit the acts Robertson described above, much less use atheism as a means to justify them.

It’s remarkably bothersome that atrocious rhetoric, like Robertson’s, exists and even more bothersome that vile assertions akin to Robertson’s are considered to be a legitimate talking point in the debate between religiosity and atheism. But, as I feel it is necessary to point out, there does exist a moral code that justifies actions similar to the ones Robertson has described… in the Holy Bible.

Numbers 31:7-18 (KJV):

And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.

10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.

11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.

13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.

14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

God commanded this, and utilizing Christian logic, if God commands it, then it is good. Now, that seems, to me, an example of abstract morality. We know violence, and rape, and murder to be morally unjust, but if Christianity is the purveyor of morals, if God is morality absolute, as Phil Robertson implies, then wouldn’t a commandment by God to slaughter a group of people like the Midianites and keep the virgin women “for themselves” be, in essence, moral? I mean, according to nearly every single Christian I have ever engaged in this topic, God is absolute when it comes to morality. So, how could a moral being demand his subjects commit an immoral act? Unless, morality is abstract.

“There’s no right, there’s no wrong. There’s no good, there’s no evil.”

The above comment is Phil Robertson’s representation of abstract morality, which I actually agree with, even though he and I exercise difference in its context. Consider morality, defined as beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. In American society, we have laws enacted for moral principles: we cannot arbitrarily kill someone, rape someone, steal from someone, commit fraud, endanger the public, etc. Our laws define our societal moral philosophy, and while there is overlap between these laws and Biblical laws (such as the abolition of murder, via the Ten Commandments), that does not necessarily imply that these laws are Biblical in nature. As proof of that, adultery is a Mosaic law, via the Ten Commandments. The Mosaic infraction of adultery does not carry criminal sentencing in the United States (or most other countries, for that matter), but is punishable by death in the Bible. Homosexuality is not criminalized in the United States (as well as most of the world), but in the Bible, someone who engages in sexual conduct with a person of the same sex can be put to death. Culturally, we have established distinction between Mosaic laws and modern laws, despite overlap existing. This overlap exists merely because the law is a good idea and further upholds our social construct around individual sovereignty.

But outside of the context of American law, and really outside of the context of established law itself, let us consider actions as an indicator of abstract morality, wherein we’re going to turn to everyone’s favorite example of why atheism is bad (despite the example’s explicit references to his own theism): Adolph Hitler. Please keep in mind, as I know some will not, that I am not condoning Hitler’s actions. I find them abominable, disgusting, bankrupt, reprehensible, vile, putrid, and horrific. However, this is my interpretation, which so happens to be a shared one. Consider Hitler’s motivation for what he did. Hitler rose to power because he was upset with the state of German affairs following World War I. Hitler’s motivation for his actions was a love of country. He was acting patriotically, a concept we in America routinely consider to be a good thing, which further states patriotism to be positive morally. Hitler genuinely believed, as did millions, that his actions were for the good will of his people, and ultimately were what was best for the world, indicating that Hitler acted benevolently. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others and Hitler aspired to strengthen his nation, inspire his people, correct what he and millions of other Germans considered to be a wrong levied upon them (the embarrassment and financial collapse Germans endured following their defeat in World War I), and do what he thought was best for them. He did it in a shockingly misguided and consequential way, but he had no evil intent. So, if someone acts malevolently (by virtue of opinion by those not the actor) from a place of benevolence (by virtue of the opinion of the actor), does that not establish moral ambiguity in the action? How can an act be both benevolent and malevolent? Are these not contradictory? If they are contradictory, then morality is an abstract concept, meaning it has no clear-cut answer and is solely subjective.

I feel that I must reiterate that I detest Hitler’s actions, just to make sure that is perfectly understood. But, back to Phil Robertson, man who claims atheism has no moral value.

With Phil Robertson’s defense against atheism being a guideline for morality, then his statement is hypocritical, at best. There are a lot of morally bankrupt things in the Bible and a large portion of them — such as the slaughter, rape, and pillage of the Midianites by the Israelites, under command of Moses — are sanctioned and perpetrated by God. With that being said, I find it impossible to view Christianity in a moral lens. Acts like the example Robertson used to speak in defiance of atheism have been perpetrated by Christians, like they’ve also been perpetrated by atheists, Muslims, Jews, Pagans, etc. It does nothing for a position to bolster a position with deceit, aside from hurt the position to varying degrees. In Robertson’s case, his Christian-defense of morality being bankrupt within atheism is hindered by describing an act that has, historically and modernly, been perpetrated by someone who proclaims themselves theist in some way, much like how arguments made against atheism on the basis of violence are hindered by people like Scott Philip Roeder and Eric Robert Rudolph. As acts Robertson himself would consider morally bankrupt have been committed by people associated with a philosophy Robertson considers to be the moral standard, Robertson’s assertion of Christianity being the moral authority is an erroneous statement.

I suppose that’s fitting, considering Phil Robertson is seemingly always only an opening of the mouth away from making another erroneous statement.

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About Robert L. Franklin

Ah, the About Me section - social networking's excuse for you sounding like an elitist prick. Hmm... what to say? What to say?
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